As an actor, I basically live for the Academy Awards, and while Slumdog might be a lock for Best Picture, there are still a number of close races out there:
Best Actor: The race comes down to two superb actors who are neck-and-neck for the prize: Sean Penn for his passionate, transformative, and fully invested turn as gay San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk, and Mickey Rourke for his stripped down, soul bearing turn as the washed up Randy “The Ram” Robinson. While Rourke’s character has a little more sting, my vote goes to Sean Penn for an earnest and uplifting performance.
Best Actress: We have another two-way race here (with Anne Hathaway’s revealing turn in Rachel Getting Married as a long shot) between what I think are the two greatest actresses of our time: Meryl Streep (who holds the record for the most nominations of any actor—15!) and Kate Winslet (who, at age 33, holds the record for the youngest actor ever to have been nominated six times). Winslet, still without an Oscar, deserves it: her performance as an SS guard is simultaneously engaging and repellant, but ultimately heartbreaking and brilliant. But Streep (who has won twice, but sadly not since 1982) and her clever performance as a hardened nun shouldn’t be counted out.
Best Supporting Actor: Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that Heath Ledger will win for a chilling and intelligent portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight.
Best Supporting Actress: Arrgh! This is the category that is going to break my heart. Viola Davis should win in this category. Her performance in Doubt as Mrs. Muller, a mother whose son might have been abused by a priest, is wrenching. Davis gets only one extended scene in the movie (around 10 or 11 minutes long), but she still manages to delivers a master class in acting, single-handedly defining the soul of this flawed film by showing us a woman who is conflicted, protective, but sadly helpless to truly protect the child she loves from dangers at school and home. While she should win, I think that Penelope Cruz will pick up the Oscar for her comic and controlled performance in Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
And finally… The Reader should, in my opinion, win Best Picture. It’s a film that unsettles you and stays with you. I’d also hand out Best Director to The Reader’s Stephen Daldry for his wonderful control of tone. None of that matters, though, because the feel good Slumdog Millionaire is going to come out on top, and its director, Danny Boyle, will claim Best Director honors.